Arthur Lam tells how he found Synergy with saving the planet…
Tell us about your childhood…
I was born in Hong Kong and lived here until I was 13 when I was sent to boarding school in Melbourne. After the end of one term at St Joseph’s College in Central, my mum suddenly told me: “You are not going back there, we are sending you to school in Australia instead.” At the time, I was really shocked and I really didn’t have too much time to prepare myself. Looking back now, though, I am glad that it happened. I had to become independent of them and it was a great learning experience for me. Overnight, I lost a lot of my shyness and became far more open and confident.
You went on to study mechanical engineering at the University of Notre Dame…
At the time, I was somewhat undecided as to what I wanted to study, so my college counsellor told me to try the very hardest course first, which turned out to be rocket science. Thinking that was pretty cool, I stuck with aerospace engineering for the first two years. Then, realising that my prospects as a non-American citizen were not particularly great in that sector, I switched to mechanical engineering in my third year and, ultimately, graduated in that.
In 2009, you co-founded Synergy Group, now one of Hong Kong’s leading energy-management businesses. What drew you to that particular sector?
Back in 2008, following the onset of the global financial crisis, everyone stopped spending and cost-cutting was the priority for nearly every business. As I had trained as an engineer, my partner asked me to review the prospects for a patented energy-saving product. As I looked into it, I realised that this product – created in Hong Kong – was one of those rare things that actually lived up to its hype. No only that, but its investor had no real grasp as to how to commercialise his system.
Even back then, I understood that, with the global population soaring, while natural resources were dwindling and costs were going up, energy efficiency was going to be a huge issue. I also wanted to prove that I could do things in a truly different way, yet still be effective. All of that, then, led us to found Synergy.
What is Synergy Group’s unique selling point?
Traditionally, companies such as ours specified products and delivered an energy-efficient budget, allowing clients to make savings on a monthly basis and then getting a payback after a certain period. By contrast, our Energy Management Contract (EMC) states that we will provide everything – from manufacturing and design to importing and installing – and clients don’t have to pay us anything. Every month though, when we save them ten dollars, they have to give us five back. It’s a true win- win!
What excites you most about your industry?
Energy is always going to be a key issue, especially now that sustainability and conservation are so high on the agenda. As a business, we never forget that everything we do helps our planet. It gives me a great sense of satisfaction to know that we are doing something that genuinely benefits the whole world.
What do you see as Synergy Group’s key achievement to date?
For me, founding Synergy and getting it listed on the stock exchange in 2015 – the first energy services company to do so – was an achievement in its own right. In terms of projects actually completed by the company though, the work we did for Singapore’s Changi Airport stands out.
Three years after we launched, we landed the project commissioned by Singapore’s government. It turned out to be a life-changing experience as it built my confidence and demonstrated to me that we were doing something truly meaningful.
Who would you say is your inspiration?
Of late, Elon Musk is someone I’ve been looking to learn more from. He is a true entrepreneur and a clean tech pioneer. What inspires me about him is the way he has picked himself up when he’s been in difficult situations. One of the marks of a true entrepreneur is the way you tackle problems. During Synergy Group’s journey from life as a start-up to being listed on Hong Kong Stock Exchange, there were a lot of ups and downs. It wasn’t all glamorous.
What does the future look like for Synergy Group?
We are aiming to be a leader in global clean tech sector, one that rewrites the rulebook through continuous innovation. To that end, most of our efforts are now focussed in the APAC region, although we have also recently ventured into South Africa.
What advice would you give to those hoping to follow in your footsteps?
I would say be true yourself and find your passion. Once you find your passion, it will become clear what you can uniquely bring to the table. It’s also important that you show that you are happy to accept challenges, while creating opportunities for yourself by always demonstrating that you are the best person for the job.
The full version of this interview will appear on Gafencu Magazine’s July/August 2018 print issue as “Lam’s Tale”. You can download the free app for digital editions of the magazine.
Interview by: Hira Desai; Photos: Neville Lee; Location: Molteni&C